Friends often ask me what the best wines are to pair with particular dishes and in certain climes. I say: picking out a wine should depend on three things – where you are, who you are with, and what you are eating. The food, company and moment should dictate the wine, and THAT is what will keep you warm this winter.
“Is wine not then a seasonal thing?” some ask. “Are there specific wines best enjoyed in summer or winter?” The answer is ‘no’. Globally, it has become acceptable to serve white wine during the colder months, just as it is becoming the norm to enjoy reds in the summer.
In winter, we do, however, tend to consume heavier wines, both of the white and red varieties. The heavier wines are those that are reminiscent of the weight of full-cream milk in your mouth. The wine enters your mouth with gusto and presence; entirely encases and romances your tongue for a few moments as nothing else matters.
Picking out a wine should depend on three things – where you are, who you are with, and what you are eating.
In these moments your mind drifts: to oven slow-braised beef in red wine infused with exotic spices and herbs. Fireplaces to keep us warm as we sit with friends over home-cooked dishes. Don’t forget to put on that jazz as the world fills with greater harmony… or maybe that’s the wine talking!
This is the time of year when we cook robust meals from the heart, soul food with no regard for the gym or cholesterol levels as the host ensures all wine glasses are topped up.
When we think of pairing food and wines, we tend to feel anxious. After all, it is in these moments we need to become our own Sommeliers or wine fundies. When you are wearing the wine fundie hat, and playing with food and wine pairings, keep it simple and balance the flavours; have the wine and food in rhythm. Your friends have been blessed with a plate of food and a glass of wine they chose from your private wine collection. (Even if it’s just three bottles of wine in the fridge or cupboard, it is still a private collection!)
When we delve into our private collections, we open a bottle of wine with the hope that it will either complement our food, or rather just walk besides the meal as a friend. We are aiming for the restraint of the waltz and not necessarily the risqué moves of the tango. Match the herbs of your slow-cooked dish and think of the fresh veggies, and, of course, the succulent nature of the meat. The rule to stick to is simply: pick the drink that you want and also the meal you want.
Gone are the days where food and wine pairings were only for the well-travelled; we have all eaten or cooked great food, and served it with a drink that we have chosen. In restaurants this is where Sommeliers come with grandeur and recommend the most expensive wines to complement the chef’s beef short rib dish or eggplant (for the vegetarians). Do not get bullied into buying a wine you do not understand.
The old adage of white wine with white meat, red wine with red meat, is just that: old. Imagine the slow-cooked beef in the oven with a superb Cab Sauv; this is the safe option. Who says you cannot have that beef with a wooded Chardonnay – imagine the richness and depth coming from the sauce and the texture of the beef as it melts in your mouth. Take a sip of Chardonnay and allow the buttery and nutty flavours to waltz with the food, richness and freshness in harmony. Take another sip, enjoy the company and turn up the jazz. It is your choice of wine, food, and company that will warm you this winter.
The wooded character (by wooded we refer to the wine having spent a few months in a barrel to mature and add complexity) gives us the butter and nutty flavours. Time in a barrel gives a bit more body and dimension to white wines.